Safety of warehouses in the United States is regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as provided for under the Occupational Safety and Health Act which was legislated by the Congress and signed into law in the year 1970. Safety of the warehouse should, however, not be viewed as just meeting the minimum legal requirements but as an obligation to prevent occupational health risks, illnesses, injuries and even deaths.
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Yet, most industrial, commercial as well as retail facility warehouses still fail to promote safety due to insufficient time, inadequate resources, or simply because of unwillingness to comply with the moral requirements. The potential warehouse risks that have been identified in the assessment and which have also been cited by OSHA as the most common include risks associated with fire, general housekeeping including floors, chemical safety, noise, material handling equipments and fork lifts.
Fire is perhaps the most challenging and potentially most devastating of all warehouse safety risks. It calls for cautious safety plans such as proper warehouse fire safety design, installing in-rack fire extinguishers and adoption of sufficient fire prevention practices. “Catastrophic fires can easily be prevented or minimized by investing in competent fire expertise” in the daily operation of the warehouse (Roughton 38). It is important to redesign the warehouse to improve its accessibility, to provide fire walls, smoke and heat removals, so as correspond to the standards as stipulated in the Fire and Inspections Code.
A number of incidents and accidents in the warehouse can also be mitigated easily through good house keeping. Basic general house keeping practices such as making sure that the floor is free of dents, pits or pot-holes are essential to a safe warehouse. Slippery, loose and damaged floors that pose tripping hazard should be repaired forthwith. Working tools, cords, wires and other items not in use should also not be allowed to scatter on the floor, but should be stacked properly in a secure place.
The presence of chemicals in the warehouse also poses a very serious safety risk. Other common warehouse liquid chemicals such as aerosols and oxidizers are explosively flammable and should therefore be kept away from open flames. On the other hand, chemicals that form part of the warehouse inventory should be handled with great care and should always be stored as prescribed by the manufacturer or as per the recommendations of the Fire Code.
Warehouse operators should also be “properly educated about the available chemicals and should have adequate knowledge on their usage”, appropriate handling requirements and recommended first aid procedures (Ladou 46). Again, regular employee education programs should incorporate aspects of safety and should also integrate training on fire fighting and evacuation procedures.
Forklifts and other material handling equipment are very crucial for moving heavy loads in the warehouse. Yet, if not used properly, these important equipments can become equally hazardous. Therefore, only properly trained, competent and licensed persons should be allowed to operate mechanical forklifts and other automated equipment.
Apart from delineating aisles, door ways and dock areas, it is also important to prohibit walking on pallets. It is also important to make sure that all employees are knowledgeable in handling equipment, particularly to stop machinery in case of an emergency.
It is always good to keep in mind that apart from preventing ugly incidents, a safe warehouse reduces damage of equipment as well as inventory. “A safe warehouse also minimizes loss of fixtures, saves on costs” and improves overall productivity (Nagurney 21).
Ladou, Joseph. Current Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Toronto: McGraw- Hill Professional, 2006. Print.
Nagurney, Anna: Supply Chain Network Economics: Dynamics of Flow. New York: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2006. Print.
Roughton, James. Developing an Effective Safety Culture: A Leadership Approach. London: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2002.Print.